This site showcases the (mostly) digital work of Andrew DiFiore from both Virtual Arts Studios and answerYES Interactive as well as random thoughts and experimental projects too volatile to be contained anywhere else.

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    Launched new WordPress CMS website for Joshua Watson, a couples therapist based in Westport and Greenwich, CT.

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    Redesigned Greenwich Pool Service website under a modern content management system with search engine optimization and seamless integration with Google AdWords.

    Greenwich Pool Service has been a family-owned business for three generations, serving Fairfield County and Westchester County since 1986. They are experts at servicing and renovating in-ground concrete and gunite swimming pools.

    Greenwich Pool Service has been a long-time client, we helped them launch kiln dried firewood business Fire It Up Firewood in 2009 with a new logo, ecommerce website, and ongoing search marketing.

    Reporting Search Engine Spam

    I was recently asked by a prospective client about Negative SEO, the tactic of convincing search engines to “think” a competitor’s site is in violation of that search engine’s spam policy. It is kind of like the SEO equivalent of slander but there is nothing illegal about it.

    For the uninitiated, in the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) there are many techniques for achieving top-ranking on search sites like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. These techniques are divvied up into three types: White Hat, Gray Hat, and Black Hat. I’m not going to go into the differences in this post but if you’re really interested, start here. It suffices to say, Negative SEO falls under Black Hat and if you’re caught, you’re guaranteed to be banned from appearing on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) ever again.

    Given the increasing importance of having web pages rank high on search results, the unethical practice of Black Hat SEO is definitely trending up. And it is not just the little guys, as evident by the recent New York Times article about J. C. Penney’s folly during the holiday season. Yes, J. C. Penney’s reportedly fired their SEO firm SearchDex but it is most likely that the retail giant didn’t mind “the how” until they were exposed (Kevin Ryan of Ad Age Digital does a nice follow up on this story). The fact that I was asked about Negative SEO by a prospect reveals people are becoming ever-more savvy of SEO as well as the best ways to cheat.

    For the record, we don’t practice nor endorse the use of Black Hat SEO (so don’t ask).

    In the end, the benefits of such tactics are temporary. But unlike email spam, Google and company have a vested interest in minimize search spam. Simply put, if the value of the search results are diminished, so is the value of the search engine itself. As good netizens, we all have an interest in making the search engines a more effective resource.

    Report Search Engine Spam:

    If you find yourself a victim of Negative SEO or other Black Hat tactics, there are many ways to combat them to regain your site’s proper place on search engines. I would be happy to help.

    It was already October when the owners of Greenwich Pool Service approached us with the idea to sell kiln dried firewood strictly through the Web as a means to offset their Summer business. Fortunately, it has been a warm start to autumn and because their target market for firewood was the same as for pool services, coming late to the game had little or no impact. Still, we had to design a logo and build an ecommerce website in record time (we opted to use Google Checkout for the ecommerce). Within two weeks Fire It Up Firewood was online and open for business!

    To help spread the word, we did an email and a direct mail invitation to the company’s existing customers as well as an ongoing Google AdWords Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign that has already yielded high conversion rates. In addition, our smart approach to organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has placed Fire It Up Firewood at the top of search engine results pages for highly coveted key phrases like kiln dried firewood and firewood delivery within a week of launch. Needless to say, we hit this one out of the park and our client was pretty impressed. We aim to impress.

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    I recently launched the ecommerce site for start-up cookie company StaceyLu Confections based out of Weston, CT. They specialize in custom-made cookies for corporate and private events. I was hired to do logo design, website design and development (used osCommerce as the ecommerce platform), and to design a newsletter template for Constant Contact.

    In addition to the server-side stats I also enabled Google Analytics (you can never have too many metrics when it comes to tracking your return on investment). Along with this came server-side search engine optimization (SEO) which includes something relatively new, submitting XML sitemaps to Google (and others). I used the free sitemap generator for StaceyLu (for small shops the free version is more than adequate). The site has been live for a few weeks now so go buy a cookie already.

    Aside: when asked to do the newsletter design I decided to take the plunge and learn the special Constant Contact mark-up language for creating email templates. Already familiar with XML I didn’t have any problem getting up to speed and creating the first newsletter using my new StaceyLu template. Ahh, but here’s the rub, Constant Contact does NOT allow you to keep your custom template on their server so it would be available the next time around. To do this, you have to pay them $600! Given I did all the work, this felt like a crude bait and switch. A workaround is to upload the template code each time you compose a newsletter but this is not a practical thing to ask a client to do (who was taking over the task). Needless to say, I was a bit peeved. I ended up redoing the newsletter using one of Constant Contact’s built-in templates (not nearly as chic). Going to use MailChimp next time!

    {Ed. Note 12/19/06: I was interviewed by The Hour (Norwalk, CT) about my viral marketing campaigns and the StaceyLu website was pictured along with the article. Free publicity for StaceyLu but honestly not sure why the paper grabbed that picture, it has nothing to do with viral marketing. }

    {Ed. Note 3/30/10: StaceyLu is no longer a cookie company. The site is being converted into a blog about “personal growth” or something like that. It has been many years, often are the whims of start-up entrepreneurs. Still, it was interesting work at the time. }

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